Cook: The House of Estill handbook

Cook: The House of Estill handbook

November 6th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Document: House of Estill Handbook

The House of Estill handbook for parenting.


From the "Glossary of terms:"

• Adult -- anyone 21 years or older, anyone who has consistently worked a full time job for a year or longer, anyone who has paid at least one bill on a recurring basis, anyone who has paid taxes.

• Back talk -- A spontaneous rebuttal against an adult; when an adult asks or tells you to do something (yes parents can TELL you what to do) any of the following are considered back talk: anything spoken other than "yes ma'am or yes sir;" any gestures (throwing hands up, stomping, puffed cheeks), sound effects of any kind; rolling of eyes; slamming any item or structure in this house.

• Entitlement -- We, as your parents, are required to give you a roof, food, and clothing. Therefore, you are not entitled to have the following because you were born: cell phone, I-pod, I-pad, computer, Xbox (1, 2 or 3), PlayStations (1, 2, or 3), spending money, vacations, shopping sprees, movies out or fancy dinners.

From "Punishable offenses:"

• Poor time management -- If you do not finish your homework or chores because you were watching TV, Skyping, texting, sleeping, Facebooking, Snapchatting, Kiking, Facetiming, Instagramming, or any other social interaction not invented yet, applies.

• Failure to respect adults in our home or outside of our home -- If an adult is talking to you, all electronic devices are to be immediately put down or stopped and ear buds are to be removed from your ears, so you can provide your full attention. All adults, including us, will be addressed as ma'am or sir. These are called manners.

From "Possible consequences:"

• No use of cellphone, Kindle, TV, I-pod, I-pad, I-phone, computer.

• Sitting in the living room with the family with no electronics (Nothing like good ol' family time, maybe even look back at old family photos of older generations).

From "Fast facts:"

• Mom does not get in trouble.

• Dad does not get in trouble.

• We love you and are trying to fulfill our biblical duties to raise you to be respectful, polite, and hardworking adults.

Got kids? Then meet the Estill family. Please.

Craig, the dad, and Carey, the mom, are hard-working, church-going parents. Their kids -- Abby, 14, and Alivia, 11, and big brother Lane, 17 -- are a lot like yours and mine: infinitely sweet, well-behaved and spotlessly clean.

And the other 364 days of the year?

"Little white lies. Back talk. Simple things like leaving the towels doubled over while they were wet and they mold and we have to buy new towels," Craig said.

Ahh, parenting. Some days, it's like being pecked to death by geese -- a flock of eye-rolling, "Animal House"-messy, video-game-playing-geese -- that makes exasperated parents everywhere feel more like the screaming Munch painting than Ozzie and Harriet.

One day -- it was Aug. 24, a day that will go down in parenting history -- Carey had reached her limit.

"I was steaming," said Carey. "Steaming."

So she sits down at her computer in their Lookout Valley home and starts typing. Three hours later, like Moses coming down the mountain, Carey returns to the family with this eight-page document.

"The House of Estill handbook," she said, proudly.

It's parenting gold. A collection of rules, guidelines and clear consequences, the handbook begins with a glossary of terms -- Adult to Chore to Entitlement to Reward -- continues with a list of punishable offenses -- Back-talk to Interrupting Adult Conversation to Respecting Others -- and then, like a symphonic encore, ends with a list of consequences that happen if kids break the rules.

No cellphone. No TV, Kindle, iPod, iPad or iPhone. Extra chores. And (be still my beating heart), the best of all: sitting together in the living room without any electronics.

"Nothing like good ol' family time," the handbook reads, "maybe even look back at old family photos of older generations."

On that Aug. 24th day, Carey, smiling like a conquering queen, printed off three copies -- one for each child, who had to read, then sign their handbook.

"I thought my mom had lost her mind," said Alivia.

After some bumps, jolts and a rough patch when Abby lost her phone for the first time -- "I had nothing," she said, "it about killed me" -- the family adjusted and like the moment when the snow globe settles, so many things got cleared up.

"The first week, I could tell a difference," said Carey, who works at the Catoosa County tax commissioner's office.

In 2011, Carey and Craig married and merged "Brady Bunch"-style their children (the girls were hers, Lane was his) into this new family. Craig's view of discipline was pretty firm and straightforward. Carey was less strict and maybe too lenient, simply because being a single mom is harder than hard.

"I was so busy and so worn out, consistency is the last word you'll speak because you're worn out from life," she said.

Their handbook, which they based on Biblical principles, became their united front, a joint resolution on how to discipline their kids.

"This is not for our benefit," said Craig, who's studying to become a minister. "It's for theirs."

Other families got word. Carey passed out a few copies to friends. It hit the Internet. So far, she's emailed or printed nearly 100 copies; so has someone else. She's seen strangers in the beauty salon reading the handbook.

"I lost all my friends because their moms got copies," Abby said.

It's not as if their kids, or ours, are monsters. Abby has this contagious humor about her, and Alivia is quick-witted and naturally smart. Lane has a groundedness and maturity that's unmistakable.

Sometimes, we all just need a little handbook to restore things, like a lilting ship being righted or a lost language being relearned.

"I look at some of my peers and how they act around their parents and how they treat them," said Lane. "It's kind of sickening."

That's why the Estills have made the handbook free to anyone who wants it.

"Showing the greatest amount of love is to discipline your child," said Carey.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.